Lost in the Widening Gyre: Life is Strange, Episode 5: Polarized

Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

One of my new favorite games, Life is Strange, has finally reached its end (unless Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix feel like giving us a sequel, that is). I’ve been a huge fan of characters like Max Caulfield and Chloe Price from the beginning and this game has left a huge impact on me now that we’ve seen the grand finale.

After learning the truth about Rachel Amber’s fate and the men responsible for it, Max finds herself trapped in the Dark Room, unable to free herself and mourning for Chloe’s most recent death (once again). But Max does have several chances to make things right. With her time travel powers active again, she can jump across multiple timelines and make adjustments to reality, even while the storm hits Arcadia Bay and everything goes to hell for the people she cares about. But the biggest challenge Max faces is her own guilt and dread eating her up inside.

2015-10-19_00017
Copyright © 2015 by Square Enix

So what did Episode 5: Polarized have to offer?

Multiple scenarios played out, both good and bad.

I was under the impression that this game would have multiple endings, and from a certain point of view, it does. We get to see a lot of different scenarios play out, from the Dark Room conspiracy getting busted to the storm wiping out Arcadia Bay to Max winning her school’s photo contest and going to San Francisco as promised. And we see even more scenarios play out once we take a detour through Max’s head somewhere in Act Two, with distorted memories and dream sequences coming into play.

Honestly, that latter section was my least favorite part, but I’ll give the developers credit for how creative they were in setting it up.

An amazing exploration of the use and abuse of time travel.

Remember how, in the previous episode, there was very little need for Max to rewind time? She got more accomplished through conversations and deductions, especially after the disaster of trying to save William Price’s life.

That’s not so much the case here. The finale of Life is Strange jumps across multiple timelines and branching realities, as Max tries to escape each nightmare scenario, get justice for Rachel Amber and Kate Marsh, and save Chloe’s life one last time. I honestly lost track of how many photo-jumping, time-breaking journeys I made, especially when every single choice always had a bad outcome of some sort.

It is noteworthy, however, that this episode calls out Max—and by extension, the player—for all the times they went back in time to fix something or make themselves look better. Of course, it’s sandwiched in between some very raw and emotional content.

One seriously challenging stealth puzzle.

Just…. to hell with that puzzle. Stealth missions and timed challenges are two things that can quickly kill my enjoyment of a video game. I wanted to play this game for choices and relationship-building exercises, not for skulking around a poorly-lit labyrinth.

A bittersweet ending guaranteed.

There’s no one-hundred-percent happy ending for this game. You will have to make a choice that will leave you hurting in one way or another. I knew that going in, but I felt a little cheated by the end of it. So many choices seemed insignificant by the end. I thought we might get multiple endings of varying good or bad outcomes, but instead it comes down to a grueling puzzle sequence followed by one last major decision between two unpleasant yet promising scenarios.

Even so, the choices do fit the overall theme of Life is Strange, which has to do with both Max and Chloe growing up. Chloe does grow into a more mature person because of her reunion with Max, and Max does have to step up and face a major loss one way or another. Facing death and tragedy is something that all teenagers go through, and seeing Max’s journey through to the end is a healthy sign for her becoming an adult.

On a personal note, I recently had to say goodbye to my mother, who passed away earlier this month. Throughout this whole year—and the whole time I’ve been playing this game—I’ve developed a keener sense of the choices I make in my own life, and I appreciate all my relationships a lot better now. It was difficult letting my mother go (and she was very much like Chloe in her own way), but I’m glad to know she’s at peace and a lot of my faith has been reinforced through the experience of this game, from saving Kate Marsh’s life to helping a shy photography student and a blue-haired punk find a little peace and joy.

All 5 episodes of Life is Strange are now available for purchase and download through Steam.


Bibliography: Life is Strange, Episode 5: Polarized. Developed by DONTNOD Entertainment. Published by Square Enix. Directed by Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch. Produced by Luc Baghadoust. Designed by Baptiste Moisan, Sebastien Judit, and Sebastien Gaillard. Art by Amaury Balandier. Written by Christian Divine. Unreal Engine 3 (engine). Microsoft Windows; PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4; Xbox One, Xbox 360. Original release date: October 20, 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Lost in the Widening Gyre: Life is Strange, Episode 5: Polarized

  1. 2 tio

    cool review, rhap. even better, was your sharing how playing the game gave you some respite and role skills that you used in the real life process of dealing with the passing of your mom. your thoughts about life, faith, and relationships in the real world reminds me that we are all challenged with a very complex game (real life) that we cannot pause or just click off.

    Like

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